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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, AUGUST 27, 2010 PAGE 23A | Identitiy From page 5A gram, several of whom echoed her sentiments and spoke of their own frustrating encoun- ters with American Jewish funders who seem convinced that investing in European Jewry is a lost cause. I'm afraid their percep- tions are on target. And I basically felt the same way before coming to Paideia. My visits to large, ma- jestic synagogues in the European cities I've visited, including Copenhagen and Stockholm on this trip, only reinforced the impression that European Jewry's long history--at times thriving, too often tragic--was com- ing to an end. The elaborate structures, once filled with worship- pers, now seem more like museums. Even those still open for prayer barely have a minyan for services, of- ten only with the help of tourists. But I learned that famed old synagogues are not the primary source of native Jewish life in Europe today. Chabad Lubavitch offers an impressive network of reli- gious and social services, but its rabbis and leaders are for the most part imported from America. If you want to find the sparks of home- grown European talent and activity, speak to the more than 200 fellows and alumni of Paideia, now in its 10th year. The institute's main program is a full academic year of interactive study of Jewish texts and courses in leadership development, with the goal of educating and training "the best and brightest" young people "who can lead a true renais- sance of European Jewish culture," according to its website. Among this summer's participants in Project Incubator--which was con- ducted in English--were two Russian women plan- ning weekend seminars for Jewish learning in various cities; a Belarus activist who hopes to create a combined Jewish study/vocational training program for young men from disadvantaged families; an Italian architect with a vision of turning the famous Venice Jew- ish Ghetto into a vibrant center for international Jewish life and culture; and a theatrical couple from England whose dream is to see "Soviet Zion," their musical production depict- ing life in Birobidzhan, the Stalin-designated Yiddish homeland in Siberia, into a Broadway show. The sophistication and scope of the projects varied, but the incubator program boasts an impressive track record. About two-thirds of past proposals have come to fruition within a year, aided by help from the program's alumni, and funding advice and support from Paideia mentors and a network of funders (including the Eu- ropean Jewish Fund, UJA- Federation of New York and the Pincus Fund for Jewish Education in the Diaspora). The incubator workshop culminates with the "pitch- a-thon," where five or six of the most promising present- ers have five minutes each to describe their project to a panel of seasoned profes- sionals, including founda- tion representatives, who offer critiques, suggestions and encouragement. "Paideia and the leaders it is training are the epi- center of a paradigm shift in Europe," says Joshua Avedon, co-founder of the Los Angeles-based organi- zation, Jumpstart, which describes itself as a"thinku- bator for sustainable Jewish innovation." Avedon, a facilitator of Project Incubator, notes that "these new projects clearly show that European Jewish life is a growing force in building a global Jewish culture that is dynamic and future-focused, and rivals the creativity happening in the U.S. and Israel." In fact, the preliminary analysis of a survey of new Jewish initiatives--a project of Jumpstart, the London- based Pears Foundation and ROI, a global community of Jewish innovators cre- ated by philanthropist Lynn Schusterman--suggests that "European Jewry may be producing more creative new initiatives per capita than North American Jewry, and in countries where one might least expect it," according to Jumpstart co- founder Shawn Landres. A story of 'dis-assimi- lation' During my five days at Paideia, which included one-on-one meetings with a number of the partici- pants to advise them on their particular projects, I was impressed with their dedication, enthusiasm and confidence in a Jewish future for European Jewry. Emotions aside, though, the demographics are more Sudoku solution from page 7 169347825 372598461 854621937 536914782 248763519 791285643 617852394 9254361 78 4831 79256 than sobering. With the exception, ironically, of Ger- many, the Jewish population throughout Europe is dwin- dling, there are few young people and the assimilation rate is skyrocketing--well over 80 percent and ap- proaching 100 percent in some areas. But while some experts insist the statistics speak for themselves and that Eu- ropean Jewry effectively will be gone in a decade or two, activists suggest that what is needed is a new definition of "Jewish" to meet the reality of life here. For example, in an over- whelmingly secular society like Sweden, it is common for non-Jewish marriage partners to convert, and they are accepted as mem- bers of the Jewish com- munity. "We can't afford to see intermarriage as the end of the story," says Bar- bara Spectre, the dedicated, American-born director of Paideia, who left a faculty post at the Shalom Hartrnan Institute in Jerusalem to found the Swedish program a decade ago. She notes that a number of Paideia partici- pants are four and even five generations removed from their Jewish roots. "Paideia is proof of the remarkable story of dis- assimilation," she says, a story of people between the ages of 20 and 40 exploring their culture and heritage, attracted to the vibrancy of Jewish life and eager to assert their identity. "If we depended on statistics... " She lets the thought trail off, but it is clear she means that, based on data alone, there would be no Paideia. "We give them knowledge and power," Spectre says of the participants, whom she describes as part of "a great transformation taking place." No Pollyanna, she is well aware of the challenges fac- ing European Jewry at a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise and Israel, she notes, "complicates" life for many. But she calls for"a change in rhetoric and attitude" among Israeli and American Jewish leaders toward the Jewish Words From page 5A prived those societies of their rich, deep pluralism. Rauf lists notable dates in Islamic history--among them 1924, when the Otto- man Caliphate ended; 1947, when India was split into Pakistan and India; and 1948, when Israel was "created as a homogenous Jewish nation- state within the geographical envelope of the Muslimworld" (page 243). I realize that we Jews carry our own historic losses with our souls; the wound of the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem is still memory- resident. But Rauf is mourn- ing the loss of the power of the Caliphate and simply repeating the Palestinian narrative, and saying that the Muslim world is a restricted neighborhood into which a Jewish sovereign nation-state need not apply. Rauf acknowledges that a number of conflicts exist today in the Muslim world, including Pakistan-India communities of Europe, noting that some Israeli and diaspora leaders refuse to "hear good news" about Jewish life in countries like Poland or Germany, locked as they are into tragic images of the past. Spectre's efforts, and message, are about focus- ing on the future, and she says she is optimistic, based on the revival of Jewish life Paideia alumni have helped initiate in their native coun- tries over the last few years. I'd like to believe her. While the political, demographic and cultural forces appear to be aligned against a flowering of Jewish life in Europe in the 21st century, Jewish history is one of survival against all odds. And the inspiration I felt from the dedicated young Paideia participants I met stays with me. I'm hoping for another miracle. Gary Rosenblatt's visit to Stockholm was spon- sored by Paideia. He is the editor and publisher of the New York Jewish Week, from which this column is reprinted with permission. 9 9 By Gary Rosenblatt New York Jewish Week Paideia (Greek for"educa- tion") was founded in 2000 amid controversy in the Swedish Jewish community, where some resentment still lingers despite the success of the program. Primary funding came through a major grant from the Swedish government out of a sense of moral guilt for its supply of goods, including iron ore, to the Nazis during World War II, though its official position was one of neutrality. Additional funding came from the Marianne and Mar- cus Wallenberg Foundation. While a number of Holo- caust survivors and others in the Jewish community hoped the state funds would go to existing synagogues or Jewish schools, the govern- ment preferred the estab- lishment of a new institution that would encompass all of European Jewry. It chose the proposal for a new program of academic excellence, and so Paideia was born. Lena Posner-Korosi, a psychologist who was the lay president of the Swedish Jewish community at the time says the controversy was "tougher than any out- side challenge" during her 10-year tenure, including last summer's ugly charge in a Swedish tabloid that Israeli soldiers harvested organs from bodies of Palestinians during the 1980s and '90s. She criticized Israel at the time for escalating that crisis, and added: "Israel is not always helpful here," insisting that Swedish Jews are treated well and that "we know the players" in the government and prefer to handle delicate issues themselves. Such issues include the banning of kosher slaughter since the 1930s (all kosher meat must be imported, and prices are very high) and op- position to brit milah since a 2001 law required that a doctor, using anesthesia, perform circumcision. Like the overwhelming majority of Swedes, Jews, who first settled in the coun- try in the late 18th century, are far more secular than religious. Posner-Korosi and other officials estimated that about half of the coun- try's 20,000 Jews (out of a national population of 10 million) officially belong to the Jewish community, which is highly organized. She said her main accom- plishments in office included professionalizing the staff, giving the community a respected voice in its deal- ings with the government, and "minimizing tensions with other religious groups," primarily Christian. One major source of ten- sion, and open conflict at times, comes from the large number of Muslims who have emigrated from Arab countries and bring with them a strong bias against Israel and Jews, community leaders say. (In all, more than 500,000 Muslims have settled in Sweden in the last three decades.) Yet most Swedish Jews seem content, I was told, and resent The Four Ques- tions they are asked most often by American Jewish visitors: Are you halachically Jewish? What denomination are you? Are you a victim of anti-Semitism? Why do you stay? Gabriel Urwitz, a success- ful businessman and found- ing and present chairman of Paideia, says that Jewish life in Sweden is complicated in ways those questions don't acknowledge. There is vir- tually no anti-Semitism in the society, except for in the Muslim community, he asserts. But while Swedes still support the legitimacy of Israel, they increasingly favor the Palestinians, who are viewed as the underdogs in the conflict. Many in the Jewish com- munity have strong ties to Israel, Urwitz said. He as- serted that the most impor- tant and successful Jewish institution in Sweden is a three-week summer camp program for youngsters from 9 to 15. "I'm not at all afraid we'll disappear," said Urwitz, who adds that his three adult chil- dren are "more secure Jew- ishly than I was at their age." The challenge, he says, is "the tricky balance" between focusing on religious and cultural needs. "In a small community like ours," he notes, "you have to be pragmatic." Gary Rosenblatt is editor of the New York Jewish Week from which this article was reprinted by permission. over Kashmir and Russia- Chechnya, "but the Israeli- Palestinian conflict is viewed in the Muslim world as being sustained by America" (paage 161). He not only drasfi lly understates the number of conflicts that exist today in the Muslim world (how about Darfur, the Balkans, etc.), but he clearly believes that America is at the root of the problem in the Middle East--and not, for example, the fact that the Arab lead- ers themselves cheated the Palestinians out of their land (see "Palestine Betrayed," by Ephraim Karsh). For the record: I believe that a Palestinian state is necessary--not out of any sentimental admiration of Palestinian nationalism, but because of a belief in Zionism, the idea thatwe might truly be "a free people in our land," a people free to continue to craft our own national narrative, complete with our national values. Is there room for that narrative in Rauf's worldview? On Sept. 12, 2001, I heard the baristas at the Star- bucks in Manhasset, N.Y., whispering about the cars that remained overnight in the railroad station parking lot--cars that would never be claimed because their drivers had disappeared. That momentwill be with me forever. Since that moment I have worked at combating Islamophobia and criticizing those who are ready to brand all manifestations of Islam as a dangerous religion. I have urged Jews to reject the anti-intellectual temptation of essentializing Islam and writing off an entire religion as a terrorist operation. Mai- monides, a victim of Muslim radicalism, had every reason to hate Islam and didn't. But if Rauf is the man who is the religious leader of the controversial mosque, then you might understand why Jews are permitted to worry. This says nothing about the rights of that institution to exist. It says nothing about privileging the feelings of the bereaved families of 9/11 over other American values of pluralism, which itself is debatable. I am merely saying that we should not expect a"kumbaya- fest" with this gentleman. Of course, I would rejoice at the possibility that I will be wrong. I would rejoice in hearing, from his lips, an affirmation of the right of the Jewish state to exist, even in what he believes to be his Middle Eastern 'hood. And so I would hope that as the board of the Islamic center starts to prepare the guest list for the inevitable opening event that they might invite Israel's ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, to speak. Now that would be a grand gesture that would help many Jews, and many Americans, sleep better at night. Jeffrey K. Salkin is the rabbi of Temple Israel in Columbus, Ga., and the president of Kol Echad: Making Judaism Matter. He is the editor of "A Dream Of Zion: American Jews Reflect On Why Israel Matters To Them."